Before I became a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I spent
over 30 years as a Lawyer. And, for the greater part of that time, I was
also the guy in charge of the whole operation.
As with the majority of bosses of SMEs, I had to do so much more than
be good at my chosen profession. In addition to actually generating
income (forgive the split infinitive; the rule is that this is always
allowed when I do it) I had ‘to get down and dirty’ with everything from
envelopes to IT upgrades; from staff tensions to bank statements; from
documentation storage to regulatory compliance. I always took my turn
clearing up the kitchen of soggy teabags and coffee spills, and was on
first name terms with most of the workers at the local waste recycling
unit. My management style – such as it was – relied heavily on ‘mucking
One of the more egregiously obvious pronouncements in management
consultancy is that ‘employees are a company’s greatest asset’. Yet some
of the larger Law Firms with which I was familiar (no names, no pack
drill) overtly made reference in Management Board meetings to ‘sweating
the asset’ – that is, working staff to the limit in order to achieve
maximum profitability. I regarded this attitude as not only inhuman but
also as being of entirely dubious logic. For instance, my personal
assistants would ask me several times a year if they could work through
their one hour lunch break and then leave work one hour early in order
to make some appointment or other. My answer was invariably: ‘No. You
can take your one hour lunch break AND leave one hour early’. And as a
result of this tiny gesture of kindness, those girls would come in early
or work late if necessary without even being asked – probably doing
more hours overall than if I had taken them up on their offer.
I am not for one moment proclaiming myself to be some sort of
management genius. To me it is self-evident that the better one treats
staff, and the more personally one interacts with them, the happier and
more productive they will be. Those companies and executives who think
that business has no place for human sentiment are ‘missing a trick’.
Because, as far as one’s employees are concerned, you only get out what
you ‘muck in’!
You can learn and practise how to become a more productive leader in the following lesson.
Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant